COLUMBUS - It conjures images of H.G. Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau, but experimentation in the creation of a human-animal hybrid is not entirely science fiction anymore.
That prompted the Ohio Senate, by a bipartisan 24-8 vote, to say "not here" as it recently passed a bill making such experimentation a crime punishable by up to a year in prison and a fine of between $250,000 and $500,000 if profit was the motive.
It would be illegal to create, attempt to create, or transport a human-animal hybrid as well as to transfer a human embryo into the womb of an animal or vice versa.
Although language that would have banned human cloning was stripped from the bill before it reached the Senate floor, the measure has resurrected familiar arguments about embryonic stem-cell, animal-to-human organ transplant, and other scientific research that have already led two Ohio governors to exercise their veto pens.
The bill now goes to the Democratic-controlled House. All eight "no" votes in the Republican-controlled Senate came from Democrats but the bill did garner three affirmatives from the minority.
Sen. Stephen Buehrer (R., Delta), the bill's sponsor, said the cloning language was removed, penalties were lessened, and exceptions were written into the bill to calm concerns it would interfere with stem-cell research and animal organ transplants such as pig heart valves.
"We were attempting to get something the research institutions could live with," he said. "I was surprised that those institutions could be against addressing something as radical as animal-human cross-breeding, which is pretty far out there in terms of science fiction stuff.
"I didn't want an extremist bill," Mr. Buehrer said. "We wanted to put some boundary on the frontier of science. It's a pretty broad boundary. Nobody is doing this in the United States right now."
But that's the reason Tony Dennis, president and CEO of BioOhio, is suspicious.
With about 400 businesses and research facilities as members, BioOhio essentially serves as a trade association for the industry.
"To some extent, it's like outlawing strip mining in downtown Toledo," Mr. Dennis said. "That's the kind of thing that is so unlikely to happen that it makes no sense to outlaw it. Targeting the bioscience industry, especially if a bill has little value, sends the message that activists are looking for ways to restrict the industry."
While there appears to be no interest from Ohio researchers to go in that direction, some rudimentary elements of hybrid research have occurred overseas. Researchers in the United Kingdom and China succeeded in growing hybrid embryos for a time before ultimately destroying them.
"You'd think this is science fiction, but it's not," said Mike Gonidakis, executive director of Ohio Right to Life.
"How much longer would it be before it happens in Ohio? What happens if we transfer a disease that is only carried through animals so that it transfers from human to human. From a moral perspective, what are we thinking? he said.
Arizona and Louisiana have passed bills outlawing such research, and Ohio is not alone among additional states considering it.
Mr. Dennis noted that the watered-down bill as it passed the Senate could impede Ohio's attempts to attract biomedical ventures through efforts such as the just-renewed Third Frontier program.
"Passage could encourage a scientist to say, 'If Ohio is passing this type of legislation, we'll go someplace else, we'll leave for California where they have a major stem-cell program,'•" Mr. Dennis said.
He said he fears passage of this bill may be just the first step in a longer-term strategy to restrict embryonic stem-cell research.
In 2008, Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, vetoed language that would have prohibited Ohio from investing in biomedical research that facilitates cloning, saying he feared the language might interfere with stem-cell research.
Three years earlier, his Republican predecessor, Gov. Bob Taft, vetoed language that would have prohibited spending Third Frontier dollars on embryonic stem-cell research. He followed that with an executive order stating that Third Frontier would follow the restrictions put in place by then President George W. Bush on the use of federal funding for such research.
President Barack Obama has since lifted the federal restrictions, and Mr. Taft's order expired with his administration.
Contact Jim Provance at:
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